The professors’ mandate is broken. The case of Nikole Hannah-Jones makes this clear.


Even if the committee tasked with reviewing academics’ files manages to free itself from such attitudes, it is highly likely that at least some of the five to ten senior professors nationwide and globally who have been asked to read the applicants are working . can present such a bias. And especially in the most prestigious universities, in my experience, it only takes a raised eyebrow to get a committee to decide that refusing tenure is the safest route.

While making it harder to establish marginalized researchers and approaches is one of the potential side effects of our tenure system, protecting the privileges of older and more powerful faculty is an obvious corollary. In certain high level case, older faculty who have been credibly and repeatedly accused of harassment are, in part due to their tenure status, in a position that continues to offer them access and power over vulnerable students.

This all brings us back to the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones became something of a celebrity cause with the very first sentence of her introductory essay on “Project 1619,” when she wrote: “Our founding ideals of freedom and equality were wrong when they were written. Conservative authors like Andrew Sullivan and Bret stephens objected to this assertion, the latter writing “ideals are not false simply because they are not realized, let alone because many of the men who defended them, and the nation they created, have hypocritically failed to respect them ”. Putting aside the fact that Stephens simply rephrased rather than refuted his argument, the most crucial point is that Hannah Jones’ essay made the entire nation, conservatives and progressives alike, pause and reconsider. what it means to found a country, and what relationship a country’s ideals must take into account the historical realities of its founding. Such a revision of the basic narrative of a society will always be controversial, will always be seen by established voices as “political” and therefore invite denigration as insufficiently rigorous.

As it happens, while many historians have been consulted on the 1619 project, others objected to certain aspects of it in a open letter shortly after publication. As such, the debate on the historical rigor of the “1619 Project” took place not only in a land committee but also on the pages of The New York Times and Atlantic, and it is certainly not my intention to rule here. Rather, I argue that the blatantly political manner in which the UNC Board of Trustees “violated long-standing standards and established processes” in the Hannah-Jones case should not blind us to how those standards and established processes themselves mask and reproduce structural inequalities and injustices – both in terms of the prejudices that help keep certain groups underrepresented and the huge differences in privilege between those who enter the much vaunted gates of tenure. and those who stay outside. These are also, ironically, the very types of entrenched and normalized injustices that, on the larger life or death scene of American history, the courageous and changing brand of Hannah-Jones journalism is supposed to us. to show.

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